TRADERS are warned to be on their guard after a spate of sneak-in burglaries.

Staff offices and rest rooms in shops in Bishop Auckland have been targeted by thieves who are gaining entry by smashing rear windows, jemmying rear doors or entering through an unlocked door.

Schools, colleges and the hospital have also been hit. The offences are happening between 9am and 5.30pm and items stolen include purses, handbags and laptops.

Police urged shops to be vigilant and call 999 if a theft was taking place. For advice on making property secure, call crime prevention officer PC Don Luke on 0845 60 60 365.

* An electric pressure washer worth £500 was among items stolen during a spate of burglaries in the Winston area at the weekend. It was taken from a farm about the same time as a petrol mower and strimmer were stolen from a garage at High Garth. Two other break-ins were reported at farms, but nothing seems to have been taken.